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January 30, 2013

Swafford: Learn to clean your home using fewer chemicals

Spraying chemicals out of a spray bottle to clean the kitchen counter is a daily habit that we may not think about very often. But what exactly is in that bottle that makes your eyes water and tickles your throat as you wipe the counter off?

Conventional cleaners used to clean every room and surface in your home have many chemicals that can cause indoor air pollution problems, especially for those suffering with allergies and other respiratory issues.

Making the switch to cleaners with fewer chemicals, especially those labeled as eco-friendly, is a great way to foster a healthier indoor environment. An even better option, however, is to make your own green cleaning supplies with basic ingredients like baking soda, white vinegar, ammonia and borax. Making your own cleaning supplies is known as “green cleaning” because it’s healthier for you and the environment in general. And, as a bonus, it can potentially be cheaper than using store-brand cleaners.

With such basic ingredients, do these green cleaners really work? I use an all-purpose cleaner at home with no complaints. On occasion a little extra elbow grease is needed, but overall the cleaners work just as well as their smellier commercial counterparts. The ingredients seem really basic, but they are nonetheless effective, especially when combined in a spray bottle using the recipes below.

Vinegar helps deodorize, dissolve mineral deposits and grease. Vinegar is also as effective or nearly as effective as commercial cleaners in eliminating microbes. Baking soda neutralizes acid, deodorizes, and cleans and polishes aluminum, chrome and other surfaces. Borax, mixed with a little bit of plain soap and water, is effective for removing dirt and soil from surfaces. And, to my surprise, it’s also good at removing mold from walls.

To make your own green cleaners you’ll need a couple of spray bottles and a marker or some sort of label to identify the ingredients and purpose of the cleaner. You’ll also need a 2-cup measuring cup, or several smaller ones, and a set of measuring spoons. Depending on what you’re making you also need a box of baking soda, box of borax, bottle of white vinegar, ammonia and water. Optional is the use of essential oils like lemon, lavender and tea tree that can cut the strong smell of vinegar and help your home smell nicer or add disinfecting power. Keep in mind that you don’t have to change all of your cleaners at one time. It’s best to spread out the cost and test several recipes to see which work best for you. Here are a few basic recipes to get you started.

• All-purpose cleaner: Pour a half cup of white distilled vinegar and a fourth of a cup of baking soda or two teaspoons of borax into a spray bottle. Optional, add one tablespoon of Earth-friendly dish soap, and/or 20 to 30 drops of essential oil. Fill the rest of the bottle with water almost to the very top. Add sprayer, close tightly, and shake well to mix.

• Stain remover: Pour 2/3 cup of clear liquid dishwashing detergent, 2/3 cup of ammonia, six tablespoons of baking soda, and two cups of warm water into a spray bottle. Use this mix to clean the kitchen counter, sinks and showers.

• Window cleaner: Pour a fourth of a teaspoon of liquid detergent, three tablespoons of vinegar and two cups of water into a spray bottle. Add sprayer, close tightly, and shake well to mix.

• Creamy soft scrub: This recipe is perfect for cleaning the bathtub, sink, counters and even the stove. The soft scrub should be made when you need it. You’ll need a bowl, preferably glass, to mix the ingredients and a sponge. Pour about a half of a cup of baking soda into a bowl and add enough liquid dish soap or other liquid detergent, about four teaspoons, to make a texture-like frosting. Optional, add about five drops of essential oil like tea tree, rosemary or lavender. Scoop the scrub onto a sponge and clean the surface. If it’s too hard to clean, spray the area first with vinegar and let it soak and try again.

As with all cleaners, you should keep these out of the reach of children and store the bottles in a cool, dry place. If the product gets in your eyes, rinse thoroughly with water and contact your doctor if irritation persists. If the product is accidentally swallowed, especially if it contains borax, drink a glass of milk or water and contact your physician for advice. Unlike commercial cleaners, with the green cleaners you’ll be able to tell her what exactly was consumed. When making your label you may want to include the date it was made, the product name, ingredients list and instructions for what to do in case of an emergency as described above.


Liz Swafford is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Call her at (706) 278-5001 or email

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